Texas Put Carnival Barker's Out of the Ice Cream Business, But They're Almost Back In
You can do a thing the right way or you can take the easy way out. In an age of endless upgrades toward increasing convenience, enhanced speed, and shorter routes to profit, staying true to your ideals will be tested. Aaron Barker and Sarah Miller, the fecund minds and busy hands behind the delicious, award-winning and highly successful Carnival Barker's Ice Creams, are being tested now.
Photo by Emily Stoker.
Aaron and Sarah started selling ice cream in 2012. They attended an "ice cream college" in Pennsylvania, then rented night access to a Deep Ellum kitchen to make their product by hand. In the past 12 months, Carnival Barker's was named Best Ice Cream by both the Observer and D Magazine. Expansion plans were underway for a permanent spot in Lower Greenville's upcoming food truck park. It was an American dream coming true -- until the State of Texas turned the dream into a drama.
Like any worthy villain, the state offered Miller and Barker a series of obstacles to conquer and battles to survive. They were told to either use a pre-made, corporate-manufactured ice cream base, or buy a very expensive piece of equipment, or stop selling ice cream.
For now they have stopped selling ice cream, but the equipment has been purchased -- though they have no place to put it -- and they're working on finding a space. They are broke. With their ice cream temporarily out of production, they have no income. Only a Kickstarter campaign paid their bills over the summer.
But like any worthy heroes, Miller and Barker perceive their quandary not as an injustice, but as a right-of-passage, even as they are being told their new, equipment-friendly space will be postponed another month.
I talked to Carnival Barker's Ice Creams on the first weekend of August, in a Deep Ellum coffee shop. It was one of the hottest days of the summer. This city needs ice cream.
The State of Texas. Which department was it? Was it health? Was it agriculture?
AARON: The Department of Manufacturing.
SARAH: It's the division that oversees frozen desserts manufacturing for wholesale in Texas.
I had no idea that existed.
AARON: We didn't either. Until they called us, we didn't know that existed.
SARAH: We've been in business for well over a year. We've been to so many places where they were like, "We need to see every single piece of your paperwork saying that you are a business. We need to see your insurance." This permit never, ever came up. We were totally clueless.
What is on the permit?
SARAH: That we either have to use that base or buy a pasteurizer. We think it's really important to state the ingredients we had been using before and that we're going to continue to use. They're on the shelves of a grocery store -- the milk, the cream. We're using ...
AARON. ... pasteurized products ...
SARAH: ... that have been FDA approved for human consumption. We were taking those ingredients and mixing them together in a safe place also cleared by the health department. We're both licensed food handlers, so we're safe people. We made food with those safe ingredients in that safe environment. And the State of Texas said no, you either have to use this base -- they specifically told us Schepp's --
AARON: Well, Schepp's and Borden's.
SARAH: But we had to specifically ask for other brands that weren't Schepps.
AARON: They have high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives.
SARAH: And nonfat milk.
AARON: Doing that would make our ice cream taste just like the ice cream down the street because they all use Schepp's base. It takes our flavor away from us. So we either had to buy the base from Schepp's and become like everyone else, or buy a $12,000 to $15,000 pasteurizer ...
Photo by Emily Stoker.
SARAH: ... so that we could repasteurize already pasteurized ingredients.
AARON: Don't get me wrong -- I know their ultimate goal is to make sure that people are safe, and that people don't get sick. I try to look at it from both sides, because this is a business and you can't just say, "Damn the man" and expect them to turn the other cheek.
SARAH: That's going to get us nowhere. When this first happened Aaron wanted to call every fucking reporter in the state. We realized that's not a good idea because we didn't have the permit yet. We understand that if the state gets pissed off about our speaking to the press, they could make the process hard for us.
They're not kings.
AARON: They kind of are. They could basically make it impossible for us to get our license.
SARAH: So we were shut down during the most profitable season, when we most desperately needed the income.
AARON: This is what we learned in Ice Cream College -- if the state comes down on you, it's usually because a competitor has called them on you. They also mentioned the fact that we were in The Dallas Morning News.
SARAH: It's all speculation.
AARON: They said, "We know you've been selling ice cream." I don't know if they're just not wanting to come down on the two of us with the full force of their might, but they could really turn the screws on us.
You've demonstrated the good faith effort to meet their standards. That probably goes a long way.
SARAH: We were just ignorant.